Baking, in most boat galleys, means using a mixing spoon or maybe a whisk. No electric mixer, blender, food processor or bread machine! YIKES! Is it even possible to make baked goods and other treats without these? Of course — our grandmothers (or maybe great grandmothers, depending on your age) did it. I’ve done it for years. The right tools help.
Still, it’s not easy to search out tools that are truly designed for hand mixing, instead of being an adjunct to electric mixers. Below, you can see my picks and I’ll tell you why these items are particularly suited for hand mixing. Except where otherwise noted, the links are to Amazon.
By the way, now that I’m back living on land, I find that I almost never use my electric beater or blender — since I’ve got the tools for easy hand mixing, I just do things by hand. There’s less to clean up, I use less electricity and it’s good exercise.
For hand mixing, you need a bowl that’s designed to be gripped in your hand, not one designed to be used with an electric mixer. For mixing up cakes, cookies, brownies and the like, my favorite is the OXO Batter Bowl, pictured.
It has a non-slip bottom and a handle to hold while mixing, both of which keep it from sliding around (actually, on boats I like non-slip bottom surfaces on everything, so there’s less chance of something spilling when I’m not holding it at the exact moment the boat moves). The pour spout is also helpful when transferring the batter to a pan. Additionally, it’s made of a high-quality plastic, so it’s very unlikely to break and it won’t be noisy when stowed, even on a rough passage. It’s a 2-quart bowl.
If you prefer a set of bowls that includes a larger 5-quart size (and you have room to store it), there is a very similar 3-bowl set, again designed for hand mixing. Instead of a handle, these have a wide lip on one side to grab onto, with the same non-slip bottom and pour spout. If you like to tuck your mixing bowl under your arm, sort of on your hip, as you’re beating batter, these bowls are perfect. The set includes a 1-1/2 quart, 3 quart and 5 quart bowl, each of which can also be purchased individually.
I’ll admit to being spoiled when it comes to my mixing spoon. I have two sterling silver hand mixing spoons that have been passed down in the family from my great grandmother, and I love them. When I recently wanted to buy a hand mixing spoon for a granddaughter, I discovered that they are hard to find now.
UPDATE: See my article on A Better Mixing “Spoon” (it really is!)
Most of what are being sold as “mixing spoons” are wooden spoons. But wooden spoons aren’t really designed for mixing heavy batters and doughs, and trying to hold one can get tiring. With heavy doughs, wooden spoons are also likely to split, so if you do use one, be sure that it’s a sturdy one.
The other popular materials out there are silicone and nylon. Nylon spoons simply aren’t stiff enough to mix heavy dough — the handle either bends too much or actually breaks. And silicone spoons are actually silicone over a thin metal core and again just aren’t designed for mixing heavy batter (although they are great for stirring items on the stove). So I don’t recommend them.
What I do recommend are stainless steel spoons. And I prefer ones that don’t have round handles — it’s hard to get a good grip on a round handle to keep it from twisting around as you mix thick batter. I also like one that’s 8 to 10 inches long. Using a longer spoon in any sort of thick dough is just too tiring to keep a good grip on the handle. And if you “choke down” on the handle, you end up trying to get a grip on a narrower portion of the handle, which is also tiring on your hand.
I strongly prefer one-piece construction, as connection points are very likely to fail with the stresses of mixing heavier doughs and batters and joints are places for bacteria to breed.
I have looked all over the internet for what I’d consider the perfect hand mixing spoon and haven’t found the ideal one yet. This one is close, although I wish it had a more ergonomically designed handle (similar to the OXO whisks, below):
- Harold Imports Spoon (shown above)
Whisks aren’t 100% essential for hand mixing in a boat galley — you can usually use a fork if you don’t have a whisk. But for beating larger quantities of lightweight things, a whisk makes the job so much easier.
I really like these 11″ and 9″ stainless whisks with ergonomic handles from OXO, shown in the photo above. And the set of 5″ and 7″ stainless mini-whisks are handy for smaller quantities. If you’re really pressed for storage space, I’d chose the 9″ whisk as being a good all-around size.
- Oxo Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk
- Oxo Good Grips 9-Inch Whisk
- RSVP International Endurance Mini Whisk Set
Once you’ve made that fantastic batter, you want to get every bit out of the bowl and into the pan. I really like the hand-held scraper shown in the picture — I find it’s easier to hold than one with a handle (it’s bigger than you’d guess, not one of those little bitty ones) and the curved side nicely scrapes out bowls, while the straight side is good for cleaning up messes on the counter or in a pan. And that funny little notch will scrape out a spoon — but I always thought that licking the spoon to pre-wash it was one of the chief benefits of doing the cooking!
If you prefer a scraper with a handle, the one-piece silicone ones are a much better choice than ones that have a joint between the handle and the scraper — that joint is likely to break and will harbor bacteria from little bits of raw batter and dough that get in there. My choice:
NOTE: While they call this a “spoon spatula” don’t think that you can use it as a substitute for a true mixing spoon. It’s just not strong enough for long-term use.
A pastry blender isn’t just for pastry — I find it really useful for things like crushing fruit and “blending” hard butter, margarine or cream cheese to soften it faster. It also works well to chop up hardboiled eggs for egg salad, or the yolks to make deviled eggs. But if you’re really hurting for storage space, you can make do with other tools, such as using two knives to mix the flour and shortening for a pie crust or a sharp knife to do some of the other chopping chores.
But since I have a pastry blender, I find I use it frequently. And I’ve learned that there are two basic styles, one that works well and one that doesn’t. You guessed it, the one with the red circle and slash is the one I don’t like. In use, those little wires just spread out from each other when they meet any resistance, instead of cutting through the food. Using one is simply an exercise in frustration and you’ll end up getting out a knife or fork to finish the job.
The type shown in the top picture, which has solid sides, is the style you want. I’ve never seen one with sharp blades (which would make the job easier), so you don’t have to take any special precautions in storing it. A small nail brush will help to clean between the blades when hand washing.
For tips on using your new equipment, see my article on 3 Keys to Easier Hand Mixing — by the way, having the right equipment is number one!
It’s also helpful to have recipes that are designed for hand mixing — and almost all of them in The Boat Galley Cookbook are!
by Carolyn Shearlock and Jan Irons